The One with $500

My novel takes place on a cross-country train trip from New York to California, pre-iPods, cell phones and personal computers. After the main characters have played cards and read the newspaper, there is nothing left for them to do but (gasp) talk to each other. They decide to start a game where they take turns answering the question, What would you do if you were given one million dollars? Tax-free, of course.

The Barenaked Ladies have some ideas on what they would do with a million dollars.

But, one of the characters in my story points out, that is too easy. Most people could live their wildest dreams with one million dollars. What would you do with one thousand dollars? he wants to know. With one thousand dollars, you can’t chuck it all and run away to Fiji, spending the rest of your days sipping umbrella drinks and fanning yourself with palm fronds. So they take turns rattling off a list of things they would buy with the decidedly compact sum: a powerful telescope to look at the moon, a fancy car (this is 1943), a pair of diamond earrings for his mother. What they choose to buy with their fictitious money speaks to their personality and what they value. Then the main character throws a damper on everything. “I would put a down payment on a house,” she says. She just can’t be frivolous.

It did not escape my notice that, in this instance, I was channeling myself. I would have done exactly the same thing.  Why is that? Why can’t I throw caution to the wind and just be irresponsible? It’s a game for goodness’ sake. Even in Monopoly, I never, ever buy Park Place or Boardwalk. In my story, someone says to the main character, “God, you’re prudent even in your dreams.”

I’m not alone, it seems. Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project recently posed a question on FB: If you have $500 and HAD to spend it on yourself, for something fun, what would you do with it?

My first thought: I really could use some new bath towels. Sad, but true.

There were many people like me who couldn’t even let themselves fantasize about being frivolous:

  • Buy new glasses
  • A new bed
  • Fun? What’s fun? I’d go buy some groceries.
  • Interview clothes
  • Pay off some bills

But some folks had no problem spending the money on something fun:

  • Get a massage
  • Ride every roller coaster within driving distance (Aside: LOVE this one!)
  • One incredible pair of shoes
  • A knitting shopping spree
  • Buy lots and lots of books

How would you spend five hundred dollars (or insert your own currency) on something fun for yourself? Could you let yourself be frivolous?

Have a great weekend, everyone!  



      1. Si, si, no problemo. Will be re-visiting the Fountain of the Four Rivers next week so will take some pics. As I’ve already bought new towels this week (Ikea so the thread count may be very low…), I’d spend the $500 on books, beer and junk food (am currently on a diet and just entering the ‘obsessing with eating crap’ phase). Alternatively, I’d spend it on a writing course that I’m trying to justify to myself would be worth it 😉


      2. Oh, please do Barb! That fountain plays a central role in my story and I’ve never seen it in person. I’ll have to live vicariously through you.

        PS – junk food in Rome would be worth every single calorie!


  1. “. . . but not a real fur coat . . ” 🙂 Great video, and now this song and this thought will be in my head all day, but I’m ok with that.

    Never underestimate the luxury of great bath towels!


  2. Fascinating questions. It’s fun to fanaticize about a million dollars, but, I think, more telling to talk in terms of smaller amounts. I’d be much more like you–spend the money on something practical. Bed sheets would be a good investment, don’t you think? Sara, on the other hand, she’d be much more likely to spring for something like a day at the spa. What a waste, I think. Gone in 4 hours. Let’s get something that will last!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


  3. I might buy tickets to see more shows on Broadway in better seats, but there are so many practical things I’ve put off getting for far too long: a dental cleaning, new glasses, new bedding, etc., that I’m fine with continuing to sit in the balcony. But if I really wanted to treat myself I’d join all those members of the iHerd and get an iPad. Clearly I’m boring.


  4. I love that song! As for the $500, I’d probably be practical if I could right now (pay bills, buy food, etc., or equally boring stuff). But if I had to be frivolous (which by the way I even today have trouble spelling), I’d use it for a book shopping spree. Wow, the joy of spending $500 on books would be amazing. Or maybe a new iphone. Or a Magnolia tree for my yard that I could enjoy for years to come. No, I wouldn’t have trouble spending that $500, nope. (p.s. your novel sounds awesome!)


    1. I’m with you Julia. Spending that money on books would be absolutely amazing. I’d probably need to set aside some money to get an extra bookshelf though.
      Thanks for your comment on my novel. Keep your fingers crossed. Maybe it will be published soon. 🙂


  5. Bath towels sound wonderful, Jackie. Big soft plushy spa towels. 🙂
    If I had $500 I’d take my husband camping, or to the beach in California. Hmmm nice even dreaming about it!
    If I had a million, I’d sell my house and buy a new truck and camper. Then the hubs and I would be gypsies for a couple of years. I’d write blog posts from the road.


  6. I would want to fly me and my two good friends (who I never get to see) to someplace fun for a weekend. Maybe NYC. None of us has ever seen a Broadway show. $500 probably wouldn’t be enough for all that though, would it?
    Then I saw the hair removal idea and found myself saying “Oh. Wait.”


    1. $500 won’t get you too far here in NYC, I’m afraid. But it will get you and your friends a good seat at a Broadway show and maybe some dim sum in Chinatown. 🙂 That would be a great night on the town.


  7. Dude I would so have no trouble spending it on myself…a desperately needed massage, a concert, a football game, dinner at a Bobby Flay Restaurant where I can actually order champagne, and some really awesome chocolate desert. Yeah…that would be money well-spent. 🙂


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